Celtel Zambia to list 20 pct shares, increase users

LUSAKA, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Celtel Zambia, the country’s largest mobile firm, said on Wednesday it would list 20 percent of its shares on the Lusaka Stock Exchange next year and predicted its subscriber base would reach 2.7 million by December 2008.

Celtel Zambia is a unit of Celtel, which is owned by Kuwait's MTC TELE.KW and runs networks in 14 African countries.

“We hope very much to list on the Lusaka Stock Exchange as early as possible in 2008 ... in terms of size, we are still thinking of 20 percent of the shares,” Celtel Zambia managing director David Venn told a news conference.

Venn said Celtel Zambia’s application to list the shares was yet to be approved by the state-run Securities Exchange Commission.

From 1.3 million subscribers in January, Venn said Celtel users should reach 2 million before the end of December.

“We are still in heavy investment mode and that continues in 2008. This year our growth will be 700,000 customers and we expect the same growth for next year,” he said.

Venn said Celtel, which spent $140 million to upgrade and expand its network in 2007, would spend a similar amount next year, although this had not yet been approved by shareholders.

Demand for African mobile assets is booming as operators from South Africa, Europe and the Middle East pay fat multiples for a slice of some of the world’s last unsaturated markets.

Official data shows that only 21 percent of Zambia’s 11.5 million people currently use mobile phones.

“We (Celtel Zambia) are sure we can get to 40 percent of the population and Celtel will get most of those,” Venn added.

Celtel has 80 percent of the Zambian market and competes with MTN MTNJ.J and Cell-Z, a subsidiary of the state Zambia Tele-communications Company Ltd.

In its release of its subscriber numbers for the quarter to end-September, South Africa’s MTN reported 194,000 subscribers in Zambia. (Editing by Ron Derby and David Cowell)